NMA E-Newsletter #282: The Relentless Advocate

Perhaps one of the most efficient ways to describe Ron Ely, past NMA Sentinel Award winner, is by noting his dogged determination. When the editor of Maryland Drivers Alliance website focuses on an injustice, and there are plenty as evidenced by the state’s position as fifth worst in the recent NMA rankings, he won’t let go.

Ron first became concerned about the town of Morningside in Prince George’s County in 2012 when he learned that the town used $642,000 of speed camera revenues to plug a gap in its budget caused by declining property tax collections. Morningside camera vendor Brekford made no bones about the nature of its services, stating in a 2011 company press release, “As municipalities search for additional revenue streams, Brekford’s Automated Traffic Enforcement and Automatic Traffic Safety Solutions presents an attractive opportunity amongst its multiple products. Brekford’s new division focused on Automated Traffic Enforcement is attractive to municipalities searching for additional revenue.

Brekford was also a key player in the Baltimore City ticket camera scandal. In 2012, Xerox was forced to acknowledge that up to five percent of the tickets issued by its speed cameras in the Baltimore program were the result of erroneous speed readings. Brekford replaced Xerox heading into 2013 and shortly thereafter admitted that hundreds more speed camera tickets were issued based on false readings, causing Baltimore City to shut down the program for six months.

Additionally, Brekford issued thousands of ticket refunds when it was found that their speed cameras were operating with expired calibrations in the Maryland cities of Greenbelt and Hagerstown. Then earlier this year, in a seemingly never-ending soap opera, Salisbury and Morningside denied public information act requests by Ron’s organization for camera calibration records.

(To make the information request – a vital tool for advocates seeking transparency of government – more accessible to the public, the NMA published its Guide to Freedom of Information Act and State/Municipal Public Records Requests in April.)

Morningside claimed in response to the records request that it wasn’t the “speed camera operator” and therefore did not have the responsibility to maintain those documents. Maryland Drivers Alliance filed for judicial review and the court then issued a subpoena which forced Brekford to produce maintenance records for its Morningside cameras. The resulting disclosure showed that some cameras used in the town had been certified by Brekford itself rather than an independent calibration laboratory as required by Maryland law. In addition, Brekford didn’t have daily setup logs for all of their cameras even while those same cameras continued to issue tickets to Morningside commuters.

As Ron recently reported on his website, Brekford and the town of Morningside will not be renewing their contract for speed cameras and the cameras have been taken down. Meanwhile the town attorney has noted that Morningside is interviewing other camera companies to replace Brekford. Apparently balancing the town budget requires maintaining a steady stream of photo ticket revenue.

Most people would have long ago gotten frustrated and given up challenging cities and camera vendors for justification of their actions.  Not so our relentless advocate who no doubt will continue to represent drivers by holding city administrators and camera companies responsible to the standards set by Maryland law.

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